One NHL playoff series ended while another just kept going.
Florida ended its 26-year playoff series drought with a 4-3 overtime win over the Washington Capitals in Game 6 on Friday night. The Panthers had not won a playoff series since 1996, when they appeared in a Stanley Cup Finals.
“[That series win] has been a long time coming,” said Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored three points in the series against Washington. Now we might as well go all out.”
Florida, advanced thanks to Carter Verhaeghes OT game winner, now faces the winner between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. Game 7 of this series is scheduled for Saturday at 7pm ET.
While Florida has finally clinched a win in the playoff series, Washington keeps getting knocked out of the playoffs early. The loss made for four straight first-round exits for Washington, who have not advanced to the playoffs since winning a Stanley Cup in 2018.
“[It’s] It’s a pretty messed up situation,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said of the team’s dry spell. “I think you see how we played against the best team in the regular season. We got it but we just blow it away It is up to us. It’s up to me [Nicklas Backstrom]At [TJ Oshie]At [John Carlson]. It’s up to everyone.”
“We basically gave them the series,” Backstrom added.
However, Washington has not made it easy for Florida. The Capitals had a tough start to these playoffs, coming up as the eighth seed against the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners. Florida offensively dominated the league from the start, setting a franchise record with 122 points.
Still, the Capitals gave Florida everything they could handle and went 2-1 up after Game 3.
In fact, Washington won Game 1 and Game 3 by an aggregate score of 10-3, pushing Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to the limit and challenging Florida’s top-flight forwards. The Capitals also took a 3-0 lead in Game 5, but let it pass and ended up with their backs against the wall.
That was a decisive blow for the Panthers. Not only did it give them back the upper hand in the series, but it also reassured some of Washington’s burgeoning confidence ahead of what would become a crucial Game 6 in their own building.
“Those things you have to go through to really get a feel for it,” said Panthers caretaker coach Andrew Brunette of dealing with adversity. “You must have heartache. You find how hard it is, you understand it and you are resilient. When you see the reward like they saw tonight, it’s all worth it.
“We took the punch, we stood up and started hitting back.”
Washington even tried his best in Game 6 to keep Florida from going on, scoring late to force overtime and forcing the Panthers to work for the series win.
The Capitals were also first on the board in that game when Nic Dowd defeated Bobrovsky early in the second period.
But Ryan Lomberg reacted quickly for Florida, leading 2-2 into the third period.
The Capitals kept up the pressure and Backstrom put them back in front less than two minutes into that final frame. Claude Giroux scored his third goal of the postseason for Florida to level the situation at center and captain Aleksander Barkov got the go-ahead for the Panthers late in the third game.
Verhaeghe’s Florida winner was his sixth goal of the postseason. He had left the game earlier with an apparent injury but returned to play hero for the Panthers. In doing so, Verhaeghe became the first NHL player since David Krejci in 2011 to score three straight game-winning goals in the playoffs, and he is the first player in Florida franchise history to score multiple OT playoff game winners in a single series .
The Panthers are now advancing to the second round, bearing the unfavorable designation of the only playoff team not to score a power play goal. Florida, with the extra man, beat Washington 19-0 after having the fifth-best power play in the league (24.4%) in the regular season.